Rugby, war thread explored

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It is a short letter from the battlefield, yet says much.

Dear Lilian

If I get killed doing duty over here, there will be medal somewhere turn up for you.

Keep it, along with my footy boots, for the boy when he grows up.

It is a note from the awfulness of the front in World War One to New Zealand, a single card in Balls, Bullets and Boots, the touring exhibition of the New Zealand Rugby Museum and now on display (in sections) at the Ashburton Museum.

Balls, Bullets and Boots is WW100 commemorative exhibition designed and produced by the Palmerston North museum, with rugby the common thread to link the stories of 100 years ago to today.

It explores the stories of XV rugby players and a woman coach and follows their journeys as World War One tears lives apart.

It features dramatised short films, images and displays.

There are posters: The Empire Needs Men

Australia.

Canada.

India.

New Zealand.

All Answer The Call.

Another says:

Rugby Union footballers are doing their duty.

Over 90 per cent have enlisted.

There are photos of soldiers/rugby players, and their scarves.

And boots and braces.

The exhibition points up the difference between the All Black of 1914 and of today.

In 1914 the average weight was 83kg and the height 176cm.

Now it is 104.6kg and 187.7cm.

The 1914 soldier had to be less than 76kg and taller than 162.5cm; the soldier of today is 7cm taller and 9.3kg heavier.

There is much on Dave Gallaher (1873-1917), the captain of the Original All Blacks.

He was a rugby pioneer and hero, South African war and international tour veteran.

Gallaher signed up at 42 and was killed by shrapnel at the Battle of Broodseinde Ridge.

Gallaher was a freezing works foreman.

In the exhibition, former All Black Anton Oliver talks about visiting his grave.

There is also a rugby/battlefield whistle connection, with an ACME Thunderer, the whistle still used on the rugby field, on display.

For the soldier, its shrill blast had another meaning: to warn a gun crew to stand back to avoid recoil.

Visitors can also smell the battlefield, with an interactive display offering the stench of the battlefield and, for comparison, the sweet smell of issue rum.

There is also a Heaven’s XV of Ashburton men, listed as men who made a difference on the rugby field and the battlefield.

They include Francis Upton, Hubert Steel, John Watson, William Patching, Leslie Kelly, Stanley Berryman, Frank Culverhouse,

Leonard Rountree, Alexander McRae, Thomas Hampton, John Bell, Leonard Greenslade, Leonard Percy and William Hood.

Balls, Boots and Bullets is on until November 12.